Chains are not local economic development

Am I the only one who was shocked to read that Chapel Hill's newly hired Economic Development Officer is suggesting we should build more big box chain stores?

While he and the committee agreed that several areas of the town could be better developed to maximize business and slow "leakage" of retail traffic to other municipalities, Kleinschmidt's face crinkled into an involuntary scowl when Bassett introduced the concept of a "lifestyle center" such as a mall or big box outlet that could single-handedly draw business to an area.

The committee also discussed potential targets for a retail makeover, including University Mall, Eastgate Shopping Center, downtown's West End and the interchange of I-40 and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Kleinschmidt agreed that leakage must be stopped, but added, "KFCs and Wachovias ... that can't be it. That can't be right."
- New economic director takes look at growth, 7/17/07

Thank you, Mark, for including including our local values in this discussion. I am honestly quite disturbed that the person we are paying to enhance our economy is not looking at more innovative and locally-focused solutions.



To be fair to Dwight, I didn't leave the meeting believing he would be advocating for big box retail. Those issues were discussed more in the context of how some other communities might respond to the kind of economic development challenges we face in Chapel Hill. At this juncture, I have confidence our new EDO understands our values and that our community would reject strip malls and fast food alleys. I also have confidence that finding an EDO who understood how Chapel Hill wants to develop was very important to our Town Manager's when he was conducting the search.

For the record, I have no beef with KFC and Wachovia per se. The comment that is recorded in this article was lifted from a point in the conversation where I was trying to illustrate what I believe are development patterns that tend to destroy a community's sense of place -- i.e. the kind of homogenous development you see in every community along our interstate corridors that are boring and lack character.

(I had a pleasant conversation with a Wachovia representative yesterday during which I clarified my comments.)

Has Chapel Hill's new Economic Development director ever heard of Weaver Street? Look at Carrboro's plans and learn from our sister Town to the West. (I hope Dan and Mark C will chime in) I know Chapel Hill can't stand being held to Carrboro's standards sometimes but PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE learn from success! (development, wifi, grocery stores, arts, bicycle lanes, etc. etc.) I say this for the benefit of our new Town employee. :) Peace!

One more thought... did our old HR director hire our new Econ Dev director?

Well, while another strip mall or three isn't really what Orange County needs, there is something to be said for fact that they isolate those big, bad, evil corporate chains in once place, minimizing the impact on more precious parts of town. New Hope Commons is an excellent example. That's a lot of tax revenue Orange County and Chapel Hill could be getting had they not been so adamantly against chain stores. Be a little more conservative with zoning laws around it, and it wouldn't be the traffic nightmare it is now.

Just like the anecdote above about the Southern Village developer willing to be flexible, maybe the anti-chain lobby should be more flexible as well. Just a thought, given the dire need for non-residential tax revenue.

Recently, there was a meeting held to discuss what type of building would be built in the Southern Village parking lot. There was much anger about this meeting because it ASSUMED the building would be built and dangit, we need that parking lot and don't want some monstrous wart in the middle of the square. Well, I was at another meeting and couldn't come, but read the newspaper account and heard secondhand about it.

It seems by the time the meeting was over, almost all the people who came in against the idea were for it. Why? Because they (developer) were willing to consider all options. There was talk of a square like the one that holds 3cups, sandwhich, and loco pops - my new favorite place in downtown.

Parking will be an issue, they will have to come up with some way of increasing parking very, very close to the square or risk losing drive-by business. BUT, I think this goes to show that there are lots of cool, fun things that developers could do to attract business without going the route of big, warty, buildings with no character.

The Carolina North group should think about this.

Oh Mark! You sell out!

Sigh, Wachovia holds your mortgage, don't they!
: )

Well, there IS something wrong with KFC.

Chains? Big Box Stores! We need to dismantle those community destroying dinosaurs, not build more! With the looming twin threats of peak oil and global climate chaos-- made even more perilous by the utter lack of a sustainable economic strategy--we need to keep our local economy strong to weather the coming storms! We need to invest in local businesses and services.

Please check out two studies by Civic Economics:
In 2002, the study "Economic Impact Analysis: A Case Study, Local Merchants vs. Chain Retailers,", which was commissioned by Liveable City, a local nonprofit group in Austin, Texas, showed that local merchants contribute more than three times as much economic value back to the community than do chain retailers.

In 2004, Civic Economics released a second study, "The Andersonville Study of Retail Economics," which again clearly illustrated that local merchants (this time in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago) contribute significantly more money to the local economy than do retail chains.
For every $100 spent in locally owned businesses, $68 stayed in the local economy, compared to only $43 when the same is spent in chain stores. Every square foot occupied by a local firm generated $179 worth of ecomimic impact; a square foot occupied by a chain contributed significantly less: only $105.


I'm glad that our town's EDO mentioned the idea of a "big box" or "outlet store" - not because I like the idea nor because I think such development would be in keeping with "Chapel Hill values" but because I think it is important that all options get vetted, particularly at this early stage. And it sounds like that is what the EDO was doing. I'm sure that there are some people (a small minority I would bet) who might support such development because of the potential for increased tax revenues. I think that it is indeed in keeping with Chapel Hill values that we not summarily dismiss such options if there are people who want to make a case for them. From a personal point of view I think that would be a tough case to make but they certainly should have the opportunity to do so, much as those who oppose tall buildings downtown were afforded opportunities to make their case.

I posted the economic report here.

Some highlights missing from this story:

- promote economic development elsewhere in Town (sound familiar?)
- jobs growth
- tap Chapel Hill's unique talents for economic growth

I just love the idea of Mark K's face crinkling "into an involuntary scowl." Like he was locked in mortal combat with his face and he...just...couldn't...fight....the...power....of...poor....planning....gahhhhh....crinkling....crinkling....scowwwwwwl. He didn't want to get all scowlly, but it was beyond his power. :)

Also, as anyone who has had lower gastrointestinal troubles in the past, "leakage" is just not a good word. Please find another one.

That is all.

I can't think of anything more depressing than being an economic development officer in either Chapel Hill or Orange County. Doomed.

Of course I'd accept such a position, it would'nt interrupt my retirement at all. A few reports here, a few pamphlets there, another pitch to the town fathers to do something about panhandlers, an annual breakfast to put lipstick on the pig.

Other than Lowes (my home away from home), A Southern Season, Harris Teeter and the barbershop at Eastgate, I do all my purchasing in Durham County. All those places we abhor: costco, Best Buy, WalMart, Target....yep, you box em, I buy at them. Soon Chatham will suck out the commercial vitality of Southern Village with, you guessed it, more boxes.

Don't you just hate those box stores?

That leaves us the downtown to mourn. Let's ask our EDO to form a new downtown commission!

Oh, Roscoe, that's WAY too honest for a thread like this. I certainly wouldn't shop at Walmart, but you're right that my wife spends a LOT of time driving to Durham for Target and Raleigh even for BJ's. The environmental impact be damned, says she when she can get everything she wants in one store and cheaper prices too.

We used to live on the northern part of town where I'd walk to Timberlyne for the hardware store, post office, office supplies, and (legal) drugs. It's actually been a real bummer to me to live on the southern part now and have none of those options. We're not in SoVill, but I'd walk there if it had something to make it worthwhile.

I got the draft flash report on this meeting from the Town and it has this snippet from Bassett:

Having familiarized myself with the Town's current planning documents, I have concluded that there is need for a framed retail market analysis which shows leakage, weaknesses and regional market gaps in terms of population centers. Discussion centered on this need and how this can be accomplished without creating a new demand for retail development by national chains, and how we might frame this for local business development.

Sounds like the EDO is trying to avoid "big boxes" and defer to local business. BTW, isn't Trader Joes a national chain? Aren't people going ape waiting on it?

Ah, James and Roscoe I think you're missing the point. Southern Village has NO big boxes and yet manages to provide a thriving economic community. It isn't SUPPOSED to serve all of Chapel Hill, that isn't the point. And, no, I can't go to one store to get everything I need.

Indeed, I am forced to walk from store to store, greetings friends and acquaintances, having coffee on the porch between purchases. It's tough, but someone has to do it.

Does my family shop at Target? Yes, we occasionally do, especially with a new baby. No baby supplies in Southern Village.
But, how about diapers? Check.
Groceries? Check.
Books? Check.
Movies? Check
Banking? Check.
Pediatrician? Check.
Gym? Check
Bar? Check
Asian food? Check.
Italian? Check.
Pizza take out? Check.
Ice cream? Check.
Flowers/plants/garden equipment? Check.
Artisan gifts for presents? Check.
Stamps/shipping/mail drop-offs? Check.
Presidential campaign office : ) ? Check.

And, this isn't even a beginning.

Roscoe, bring on your silly big boxes to Chatham, the idea that it will harm Southern Village is laughable. Those folks who live here that would use it, already do. The only difference will be the direction they drive, which if you use the backway to Southpoint, probably is not that much different. No, there is a right kind of development. It's the kind of thing we talk about when we dream of what Carolina North COULD BE, not what those whose imagination is "boxed"-in are limited to.

BTW, how much money do you have that you are a regular shopper at Best Buy? How many big screen TVs can one man need?

I must confess I could be wrong about Southern Village. It's vitality can be sustained by its residents and although only small shops (so far) abide they, with the central lawn, are attractive and I hope they make it......without a new building on the current parking lot.

I don't know how successful the Meadowmont stores are but they are the same idea as SV. (oh how hard many of our current town fathers fought against the development of Meadowmont!)

For those of us who do not live in neo urbana we can always dream of a downtown with vital small business (not t-shirts, bars and subs)....much like Blowing Rock. BR has inadequate parking, too, but you'd find a place in a tree or a mile away to stroll those stores with everyone else, sit in the park...sigh.

Best Buy sells DVDs, CDs, and video games, too. That's probably the reason behind the frequency.

I also like 1-stop shopping. Saves time and gas. If a variety of stores that sell what I'm looking for are in the same place, great. I'll go to a half dozen shops in one location, but I won't go to 6 different locations to do my shopping.

Most of what I buy I get on the internet, anyway.

I don't live in Southern Village, and wouldn't choose it over Carrboro, but I go out of my way to spend money down there to support those small businesses, to enjoy the square, and support a better way of building towns.

I may be wrong, but my sense is that there is more than enough parking beneath the retail on the 15-501 side of Market street to support those people who already park within the center square, even on busy Friday evenings.


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